Park Seed Hardiness Zones
   Whenever I think of Hollyhocks, I think of my grandmother’s quaint farmhouse and the old barns. Everywhere you would look these tall majestic plants with fun flowers on them were blooming everywhere around the house and the barn.
   As a little girl grandmother and I would make "flower dolls" from the bright colored flowers. Hollyhocks seem to have been around forever and it is fun to watch the gardens that have them growing in the beds. Usually it will be the older homes and the older folks that will have them in their gardens.
   The new hybrids of this old time flower are worth planting in any garden. The beautiful colors of the classic single-flowered hollyhock can be found in an array of colors including mahogany, rose, pink, apricot, yellow and ivory. They can grow from 4- to 6-feet tall and have 3- to 4-inch flowers from mid-summer to early fall. The rugged, fantastic looking black-flowered variety of Hollyhocks has become the most popular color in recent seasons and can be substituted for Hibiscus in herbal teas.
    Where did they come from ? The old fashions types are believed to be of Asian origin, because they are depicted in Chinese art as early as the 9th century, symbolizing passing time.
   Plants have been cultivated in Europe for the past five hundred years with seed imported from China. Some believe the name was derived from Crusaders, who carried seeds gathered in the Holy Land. Hollyhocks really came into their own as garden plants during the Victorian era both in Britain and in America.
   Easily grown from seed, the old standard single strains have seed that was easy to send by mail and made them a common sight on the frontier. Old photographs often depict these flowers against picket fences of homesteads and farms.
 Pink Hollyhock
   The common Hollyhock is Alcea rosea, a member of the Mallow family. A related herb, Althaea officinalis or marsh mallow, was called "hock leaf" in medieval England because the leaves were used to treat swelling in horses’ hocks or humans’ ankles.
   When Alcea was introduced, perhaps by Crusaders returning from the Holy Land, it was given the name "holyhock" to distinguish it from the older form. Their beauty and utility secured Hollyhocks a place in nearly every cottage garden and they were among the first plants introduced to North America by English colonists.
   Hollyhocks are perennials or biennials depending on your climate. It gets very cold in my area in the winter and mine come back every spring.
I cut them back in the fall after the first frost, dress the soil around them with compost and rock phosphate or bone meal to feed the roots of the plants, so that they will be hardy next year, and then just forget them.
   Once established in a garden, hollyhocks often self-sow, forming a colony of plants themselves. They like lots of sun and moist but well-drained soil. The seedlings transplant well on a cool day suitable to avoid excessive heat-wilting.
   Usually Hollyhocks in the first year bear leaves only. For more flower stalks, pinch out the growing tips once or twice early in the growing season. This gives shorter plants with more branches.
   They are prone to the disease called ‘rust’ the way to prevent your plants from getting sick is to plant them in full sun in an area with good air circulation. Japanese beetles love to eat the leaves and the old saying "plant them and they will come" really is true for the Hollyhocks.
   A few favorite Hollyhock varieties are:
  • ‘Chater’s Double’ - The double, ball-shaped flowers are red, pink, white or yellow.
  • ‘Indian Spring’ - A mix of white, pink, red and yellow single flowers.
  • ‘Majorette Mixed’ - A dwarf form with a height of about 30 inches. Large, semi-double flowers in pastel colours.
  • ‘Nigra’ - Dark maroon flowers are almost black in the center.
  • ‘Powderpuffs Mixed’ - The double flowers are an inch larger than other double Hollyhocks. The flowers are yellow, white, pink, scarlet and salmon.
  • ‘Rugosa’ - This Alcea has yellow flowers produced on spikes 6 feet tall.
  • ‘Summer Carnival’ - Double flowers in a wide range of colors are produced even on lower parts of the stem.
  •    Now you can also find miniature Hollyhocks and even some with double flowers. Hollyhocks are as easy to grow as sunflowers and make perfect background flowers. Read about them then try your hand with these old fashion beauties and you will soon see why they have been a favorite in gardens for hundreds of years.

    Wayside Gardens monthly

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